Overhauling the Curriculum

A national curriculum would be preferable to a provincial one. Its content,
textbooks and teaching quality should be objective,
rational and free of intellectual misuse.

By Nikhat Sattar | December 2020


A debate related to the school curriculum rages in the country: should it be the same for all federating units? Work towards this is in advanced stages, with the centre ready to roll out the programme, beginning with grades I-V in March 2021 and following with senior grades in 2022 and 2023. Three provinces where the PTI government holds a majority together with allies have agreed while Sindh continues to differ. Many educationists too have expressed dissatisfaction and identified the pitfalls if such an action were to be taken. They cite differences in local language, culture, tradition and economy as key factors that would disadvantage students if they were to learn from a common curriculum. They are also concerned that this would further encourage rote learning despite the fact that objectives state otherwise. People worry that this would provide excessive control to the centre in Pakistan where conditions for democratic institutions and provincial autonomy are becoming more fragile. Since the plan is to standardise the curriculum for all public and private schools and madaris, they voice the concern that the existing relatively high standard of private schools could be lowered.

One the other hand, a common national curriculum would inculcate shared values in children, enable mobility across various provinces without the need for major adjustment and facilitate a national level teacher training programme where teachers from across all provinces and regions can come together in diverse groups. A set of common assessment and standards can be developed that would bring equity across all schools. It is possible that a national identity instead of separate ethnic identities could be developed. A particularly attractive feature is of madaris coming under a shared education umbrella, although this could pose insurmountable difficulties in case of so many sects.

Human dignity and rights should be discussed, as should the necessity to build and sustain harmony with each other.

The debate is not unusual in a federation. It is ongoing in the US and India, where, despite a National Curriculum Framework, only about 50 percent of the states have adopted it. States in the US have different curricula and different standards and assessment techniques. In Pakistan, the education system is in need of a major overhaul due to low enrolment and literacy levels, poor quality of teaching and below standard learning outcomes. School curricula are out-dated, textbooks are uninteresting, full of errors and misrepresent historical information. Both books and teachers fail to promote critical thinking and discourage questioning. Teaching is focused almost entirely on passing of examinations. The entire system is rotting due to lack of seriousness, sincerity, investment where required and lack of attention to quality and merit. It is inequitable and has promoted intolerance, misgivings and hatred between the majority Muslims and other religious groups and even between different sects, ethnicities and languages.

In such a situation, it is essential to pay attention to the content of the curriculum. The positive aspects of a national curriculum can only be realised if textbooks and teaching methods stimulate intellectual growth of the child; provide the child with skills which he or she can use to improve the lot of their family, community and nation; build harmony; present facts and analysis of history and be encouraged to learn about other religions, cultures, traditions and ethnicities. Human dignity and rights should be discussed, as should the necessity to build and sustain harmony with each other. The arts should receive attention to encourage aesthetics and artistic talent and children should be encouraged to play their role in recycling and keeping their environment clean and healthy.

A national identity must be developed on its own, instead of disparaging other identities and nations. The history of Pakistan should date to undivided India and include non-Muslim personalities of stature. The Independence of 1947 should not be explained in a misguided and untruthful sense of incompatibility of Hindus and Muslims or the perceived tyranny of the former, but the political facts of majority rule of Nehru and Gandhi. The breakup of the country in 1971 should be explained and debated. The curriculum should include information about other races and cultures in the world and provide an equal amount of content related to women.

This country is a homeland for non-Muslims and Muslims alike and, as such, the key consideration need not be the Quran and Sunnah, as is stated in the main document. It is also not necessary to teach Islamiyat; which Muslim sect would be considered for its content? Would it not be discrimination against other groups? Instead, a subject on ethics should be taught. Why does the current document include memorising Hadith? Religious learning should be left to the domain of the home and madrassah where the Quran and Arabic may also be taught.

A national curriculum would be preferable to a provincial one only if its content and textbooks and teaching quality is objective, rational and free of possibilities of religious and intellectual misuse.


The writer is a development professional, researcher, translator and columnist with an interest in religion and socio-political issues. She can be reached at

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